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Edo Governorship: Between Activism and Moral Suasion, By Sufuyan Ojeifo

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – The history of governorship politics in Edo state, at various intersections since 1999, is very fresh in my mind.  But of great interest to me is the April 14, 2007 election that pitted Senator Oserhiemen Aigberaodion Osunbor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) against Comrade Adams Aliu Oshiomhole of the then Action Congress (AC).

That election, conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), was won by Osunbor, but the courts -the tribunal and court of appeal -were convinced otherwise; and, through the instrumentality of their rulings, retrieved the “stolen” mandate and gave it to Oshiomhole, whom they said was the authentic winner of the poll.

I have decided to reference this particular election because of the tension it generated in the process of dismantling the structure of a conservative political elite which, the people who committed themselves to the dismantling process continue to argue, were responsible for the backwardness of the state in terms of infrastructure development.

But their argument was designed to promote the agendum of changing the hierarchy of elitist politics that had enjoyed a vast flourish in the heartbeat of the nation for a little over two decades.  It was, therefore, obviously wrong to project political leadership outside the circuit of governance as responsible for the clueless administration of Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion.

The buck, unarguably, stopped at the governor’s table.  In all of eight years, he took decisions that cumulatively sank Edo deeper in the miry clay of retrogression. Sardonically, despite his unimpressive performance, he spearheaded an internal revolt that was aimed at torpedoing the supposed godfathers whose endorsement saw him emerge as the PDP’s candidate and governor in 1999 and 2003.

That revolt, which burgeoned in 2007, saw the emergence of Oshiomhole as the AC governorship candidate.  The Grace Group led by Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, who was at that point the Secretary to the State Government, provided the hub around which the internal dissension in the PDP revolved.  The Grace Group popularized the “No man is God” slogan, was instrumental to the formation of AC, searched out and found Oshiomhole useable in actualizing its goal.

The strategy was simple: deploy Oshiomhole’s populism as a labour activist and leader to galvanise a statewide support that could turn the table against the ruling PDP and its candidate, Osunbor.  Subsequent developments confirmed that the decision to use Oshiomhole as the battle axe in the governorship election was precise.

Having mobilized funds for the election, the elements that sponsored Oshiomhole were sure that the former labour leader, if he was rigged out at the poll, would be able to call on his experience and background as an activist to appeal to popular sentiments and blackmail everyone who would stand on his way to victory through the court.   Oshiomhole did not disappoint. He was rambunctious as he latched on the premise of widespread claim that he won the election, which outcome was manipulated against him.

He led a series of street protests during the sitting of the tribunal while his lawyers perfected the legal gymnastics that eventually led to the tribunal cancelling votes originally ascribed to Osunbor in areas where manipulation was purportedly proved, deducting the same illegally received votes from the total votes scored statewide such that, in the final analysis, Oshiomhole, according to Justice Peter Umeadi-led tribunal, got 166,577 votes as against Osunbor’s 129,117 votes.

Oshiomhole proved beyond reasonable doubt that there were electoral malpractices-fraud, voter intimidation, multiple voter registration, over-voting and violence that adversely affected the results.  He was declared winner from exhibits 70 and 71A which contained inherent flaws that invalidated 65,144 PDP votes and 13,610 AC votes.  Results of two local government areas were cancelled outright.  The tribunal had some harsh words for INEC whose officials did not present any credible evidence before it. The tribunal’s verdict was upheld by the court of appeal on November 12, 2008.

Other issues conspired with Oshiomhole’s activism to swing victory in his favour.  Take, for instance, the internal struggle for control of PDP structure in the state that left the party fractured and unable to fight as a united front in defence of Osunbor’s “mandate” even when it was in control of power at the centre.  Oshiomhole also enjoyed the tacit support of some leaders of the PDP, including financial assistance from the late President Yar’Adua, as was later confirmed by Oshiomhole himself at the launch, in Abuja, of Olusegun Adeniyi’s book: Power, Politics and Death- A front-row account of Nigeria under President Yar’Adua (The Nation, Wednesday, December 14, 2011 at page 8).

But Oshiomhole’s activism, I would say, was what adverted national and international attention to Edo state.  The vigour and aggression that he invested in the pursuit of retrieving the governorship mandate from Osunbor yielded legal dividend. Osunbor, a professor of law, could not deploy the instrument of law to secure his mandate.  He was too gentle and refined to behave in a gangsterish manner just because an Oshiomhole, a public space man, was beside himself, shouting in the streets of Benin with his crowd, claiming that he was robbed of his election victory.  That was how Osunbor lost the mandate eternally to Oshiomhole.

Let us fast forward to the on-going scenario: Ize-Iyamu of the PDP (with 253,173 votes) is in the tribunal challenging the declaration of Godwin Obaseki (with 319, 483 votes) as winner of the September 28, 2016 governorship election.  There was spontaneous protest following the declaration.  The PDP candidate, who is also schooled in the art of activism, continued to mobilise Edo people who believe that he won the election in a series of street protests before the tribunal began its sitting. This is where the difference in style comes in.  While Oshiomhole’s activism was tainted with a streak of rascality, Ize-Iyamu’s activism is underpinned by moral suasion. His protests were peaceful and not intended to harass or intimidate anybody.

Immediately the election issue was activated in the tribunal, further protests stopped unlike 2007/2008 when Oshiomhole battled and virtually brought governance in the state to a halt just to retrieve the governorship mandate from Osunbor.  Ize-Iyamu, according to reports filtering out from the tribunal, is arguing with proofs how the process and outcome of the election were manipulated against him, despite scoring the highest number of votes.  Ize-Iyamu’s legal team is said to be doing a good job. Whenever the lead counsel, Yusuf Ali (SAN), is interviewed on television after a sitting, he is always smiling, confidently declaring that his team’s strategy is working out as planned.  Obaseki’s legal team, led by Wole Olanipekun (SAN), is equally claiming it is doing well and, therefore, very hopeful.

The battle, this time round, will be won, wholly, within the walls of the tribunal and the appellate courts, sans activist or gangster’s shenanigans.  Moral suasion is being deployed to get the tribunal to do the needful in the face of proven glaring irregularities in the computation and compilation of accredited voters, votes cast and votes scored by the candidates when the voter registers are juxtaposed with the Form EC8A.  The Obaseki legal team has also been working to prove that there were no irregularities during the election.

The tribunal will be swayed by the facts and corpus of evidence adduced for and against parties in the matter.  It will not be swayed by rash extremism. In the end, the Justice Ahmed Badamasi-led Tribunal will determine whether the election substantially complied with the electoral rules or not, on the basis of which it will deliver its verdict.  Meanwhile, Edo people are awaiting the outcome of the legal contestation.

Mr Ojeifo, journalist and publisher, sent this piece via ojwonderngr@yahoo.com

 

 

 

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